Festive music is in the air as the winter holidays draw closer (Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa). An annual highlight is the holiday concert by the Central Ohio Symphony, held this year on Sunday, Dec. 11, in Gray Chapel inside University Hall on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University. On the program were seventeen selections, ranging from the 17th century to the 21st century. There were several popular Christmas pieces and medleys by Leroy Anderson, including his fun “Plink Plank Plunk,” written entirely in the pizzicato style. No Christmas concert would be complete without at least one of Anderson’s witty and entertaining pieces that don’t shy away from clocks, sandpaper, and typewriters. Walter Kent’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and Mel Tormé’s “Chestnuts Roasting” were certainly also familiar to the vast majority of the audience. Other standard tunes included “Silent Night” and “Greensleeves.” In addition, there were three dances from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and his “Sleeping Beauty Waltz.”
The Symphony strives to strike the right balance between the old and the new, the classical canon and modern innovation. Many of its concerts include artists and works that are not mainstream and allow the audience to make unexpected discoveries and form unique memories. Award-winning, multi-talented musician Brian McCoy, of Dublin, falls into this category. He is not only proficient in a variety of Irish flutes and whistles, he also plays the Irish Uilleann (“elbow”) pipes. As demonstrated by McCoy, the instrument is similar to the Scottish bagpipes, but instead of blowing with the mouth into the instrument there is an airbag under the arm that can be pumped by moving the elbow. The airflow powers the reeds inside the pipes, allowing a musician to talk or sing while performing. Generally speaking, the instrument is more versatile and melodious and can even produce chords.
The work McCoy performed in a world premiere was “Highland Holiday” by Westerville composer and inventor Ken McCaw. He is best known for his film and stage music, but he has also composed stand-alone works such as “Hocking Hills Suite.” The Symphony has premiered at least two other pieces written by him, “Ice Dance” and “Cedar Falls.” As is fitting for the season, “Highland Holiday” is devoid of drama and tragedy. It is serene and meditative in nature and has a New Age touch. In an earlier version, an accompanying picture shows an enchanted nature scene that you may find in a fairy tale. The orchestra and the Uilleann pipes are not adversaries. They are immersed in harmonious conversation, echoing each other. McCaw, now in his seventies, was present and acknowledged the audience’s warm applause. Unfortunately, McCoy’s wife, guitarist and vocalist Kim Rattan-McCoy, was sick with the flu and unable to attend. Two other musicians (Doug Ruddy on the mandolin and Jim Lindroth on the Bodhrán, a Celtic drum) accompanied him while he played an Irish carol and another traditional Celtic tune on the flute with great virtuosity and breathless speed.
The highlight of the afternoon was local soprano Angel Tyler who performed a total of six songs and led the audience in a sing-along of select Christmas carols. Tyler is an accomplished musician, having performed in operas and musicals, concerts and oratorios. As noted in a previous review, her vocal spectrum is enormous, ranging from alto to soprano. Her voice is strong, steadfast, and comforting. As I was sitting through one of the rehearsals and the concert, the words “true,” “honest,” and “trustworthy” came to mind. There is nothing false, artificial, or egotistical about her singing. Her high notes soar like an eagle, and she delivers the low notes with self-assured dignity and gravity. And she is at home in a variety of communal genres, from Handel’s “Messiah” and gospel music to jazzy tunes such as “Santa Wants a Tuba for Christmas” by Norlan Begley. It also helped that she quickly established a good rapport not only with the conductor and the orchestra but also with the audience. Concertgoers will have another chance to listen to her arresting voice at the May 2022 concert when she will be the soloist in “Nightsongs” by living composer H. Leslie Adams, based on texts by African-American poets. She is also scheduled to give a free voice recital on Saturday, Feb. 11 (7 p.m.) in Jemison Auditorium inside OWU’s Sanborn Hall (23 Elizabeth St.) that features a variety of composers, including Black composers such as H. Leslie Adams, Florence B. Price, Harry T. Burleigh, and Margaret Bonds.
The holiday concert ended with a rousing rendition of “Radetzky March” by Johann Strauss, Sr. The enthusiastic audience gave Music Director Jaime Morales-Matos, soloist Angel Tyler, and the entire orchestra a standing ovation. Eric Leday (tuba), James Predovich (harp), Sally Sansbury (organ and piano), and Tom Sobieski (violin) deserve special recognition for their solo parts as does librarian Laura Masonbrink whose job it is to ensure that thousands of pieces of papers go to the right instrumentalist in the right order. The entire concert was recorded by OWU videographer Elaine Chun and is available on the website of the Symphony, www.centralohiosymphony.org.
The concert was made possible by main sponsor Ohio Living Sarah Moore and by additional support from the Ohio Arts Council, PNC Arts Alive, the City of Delaware, and Ohio Wesleyan University. Dozens of beautiful red and white poinsettias were once again provided by Kroger Company. Many thanks are also due to the musicians, the audience, the donors, the advertisers, and the many people behind the scenes. Their names are listed in the program.
The March concert is not that far away. Three major works will be on the program on Sunday, March 5 (3 pm): the world premiere of the “UFO Concerto” by Dutch composer Johan de Meji (with young trombonist Peter Steiner), three dances from “The Three-Cornered Hat” by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, and the “Polovtsian Dances” from “Prince Igor” by Russian composer Alexander Borodin. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Symphony‘s office (24 E. Winter St.), by mail (P.O. Box 619), by email ([email protected]), by phone (740.362.1799), or through the website.